Frontier Area Rural Mental Health Camp and Mentorship Program (FARM CAMP)
Need: To reduce the shortage of behavioral health professionals in rural Nebraska.
Intervention: A week-long camp teaches high school students in rural and tribal communities about different career options in behavioral health and provides mentorship after the camp ends.
Results: In 2022, 10 high school students participated in the camp, and a former camper returned to present on their work in a psychology lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In Nebraska, 90
out of 93 counties are Health Professional Shortage
Areas (HPSAs) in mental health, and one county is
partially covered by shortage areas. One program has been
working since 2013 to encourage local students to pursue
a career in behavioral health and help reduce this
The Frontier Area Rural Mental Health Camp and Mentorship
CAMP) is a free camp that encourages high school
students to pursue careers as psychologists, social
workers, substance use counselors, and other behavioral
FARM CAMP has taken place in the rural communities of
Rushville and Winnebago, which is on the Winnebago Indian
Reservation. The program recruits Nebraska students as
well as students from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Rural high school students spend a week taking a
college-credit class, which covers topics such as mental
health, psychology, substance use disorders, and ethics.
Students also learn more about their local/Native culture
and ways to incorporate cultural competency into care.
Behavioral health professionals educate the students on
career options and share their experiences.
Theatre students from Chadron State College (CSC) or
local high school drama programs act as patients so
students can practice identifying and working with
For a final project, participants pair up and create a
social media reel, digital poster, or podcast about a
behavioral health topic. Participants present their work
to the group, make final edits, and have their projects
posted on Western
Nebraska Behavioral Health's social media.
In past camps, the final project tasked participants with
designing a community project to address a need that they
saw in their own rural community. On the final day,
students presented their projects to one another and
obtained additional feedback and ideas. At the end of the
Winnebago camp, students additionally met with the Tribal
Council to pitch community improvement ideas.
FARM CAMP organizers also mentor these students and stay
in touch after camp ends. Mentoring offers career
counseling and overall support, especially to students
struggling at home or in school.
In 2022, 10 campers (5 new and 5 returning) from
Alliance, Gordon, Pine Ridge, Rushville, and Valentine
participated in the camp. Two junior members (middle
school students) participated in part of the camp. One
former camper returned to present on their work in a
psychology lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In 2021, a total of 15 students (7 returning alumni) from
Alliance, Gordon, Pine Ridge, Rushville, and Valentine
participated in the camp. No camp was held in 2020 due to
In 2019, 13 high school students from Broadwater,
Chadron, Gordon, Rushville, and Sidney participated in
the camp. Six alumni from earlier camps also returned to
participate again and/or mentor new students.
In 2018, 8 high school students from Bridgeport, Chadron,
Dodge, Howells, Rushville, Sidney, and Valentine attended
the Rushville camp, with four FARM CAMP alumni returning.
In 2017, 11 students attended the Rushville camp.
The Winnebago camp received the following numbers of
students in past years:
2015 camp: 9 students
2016 camp: 7 students
2017 camp: 4 students
Rural Nebraska is a large geographic area, so one
challenge early on was reaching students. Simply sending
out information to guidance counselors was not as
effective as in-person presentations by staff. Word of
mouth has been a very effective recruiting tool. Past
participants tend to speak highly of the experience to
younger students in their communities.
Another barrier is financial. It's important to run the
camp at no cost to students, due to the high poverty
levels of these rural communities. Costs associated with
lodging, meals, college credit, supplies, and activities
can be high for a week-long event. This barrier has been
addressed through collaborative efforts with BHECN, CSC,
and a number of community agencies that provide donations
to support the camp.
Demands on staff time is another challenge, as staff
typically work 12 to 14 hours each day of camp.
Run the first camp(s) with a local provider, and then
turn it over to local staff. This is a useful strategy,
as there is a sharp learning curve the first year. Local
leadership is important to keep local investment high.
It's important for participants to build connections with
one another as well as with staff mentors.
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information
about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The
programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural
community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s
needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep
in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.